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rhkkmk's visit to South America as reported on the SA board

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May 8th, 2009, 07:42 PM
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rhkkmk's visit to South America as reported on the SA board

Argentina and Paraguay, April 14 to May 5, 2009


As many of you know my wife and I travel as much as time and the budget allows. We are 65 years old and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, people, shopping, music and environment of foreign lands.

We have neglected South America in our travel heretofore, having only visited Peru in the past. My wife lived in Asuncion, Paraguay for a couple of years in the mid-1950’s, as a child, and has always wanted to return there to observe the changes and to reaffirm her interest in that country, but we never found time to fit it in….. Our friend Robert, “ Tenombre” from fodors, convinced us that we should visit Argentina and thus there was an opening to visit Paraguay also…

I started our planning about a year ago before we left for Asia in April, 2008. It continued through the summer and well into the Fall. Argentina was very easy to research and converse with people about, but No One GOES to Paraguay or knows anything much about it… This became my challenge.

As usual the first thing to address is the flights and inclusive dates. My first call to Delta yielded FF tickets on Continental. While not the best routing (boston-newark-houston-buenos aires), it was acceptable because of the times and decent lay-overs….I don’t like to leave too early in the AM, nor rush from one flight to another taking into account delays, etc… plus I love night flights as one tends to get some rest and arrive more refreshed, with the aid of some little pills my doc prescribes for me (halcyon)… Our flight left boston early afternoon and the flight from Houston was a night flight getting us into BA early morning about 9:15AM… the return flight left BA at 9:50PM, so I was thrilled with these times… and as a bonus we got back to boston about 4PM..

We were undecided what areas to visit….we knew we wanted to visit Iguazu Falls in NE Argentina, Asuncion and Buenos Aires, but I knew little about the rest of the country… I started with Fodors, of course, visited our local library, checked out TA and then purchased two Argentine guidebooks. I was unable to find anything really current on Paraguay. We also knew that we probably needed to spend some time in one of the wine producing areas. Eventually I decided on Mendoza in the western section of Argentina near to the Chile border and the Andes. This decision was made easy by the excellent responses I received from a B&B in Mendoza, about which I will write more later.

I also had help from a number of people on Fodors, but Avrooster (Alberto Gallo), stands out for his clear love of his country and the clarity of his English responses, plus a great sense of humor.. We clicked immediately.. Crelleston, from fodors, had also advised me that avrooster was a wonderful reliable source. I will write more about our interface later as well..

Through TA, I made contact with two men in Asuncion, both by the name of Jose, and they helped me a great deal as did a few other posters.

Our Spring schedule became very complicated as time went on, as we attended the LA Fodors GTG in mid-march and then out of the blue a quick trip to England for a double surprise birthday party arose for the week-end before we were to leave for BA… In the end it all worked out perfectly.



Athough this lead in seems a bit long I hope to do a more abbreviated day to day report. I will follow with some sort of recap/contact listing/etc…




Airline: Continental proved to be a good choice… All but the two Newark hops were in planes offering 2-4-2 seating… the food going down was at best OK, but coming home we had an excellent meal.. Alcohol drinks are all $5 and a second suitcase is $25 which are negatives..

Luggage: Karen used her usual 22” rollie and a small carry-on rollie.. I also had a small carry-on rollie and for the first time used a 24” rollie as my suitcase—she packed my bag to show me that it could be done and actually it was excellent for the entire trip…It has a 2” expansion which came in handy for the return to allow for purchases… You can do this if you plan to use laundries along the way--- We sent things out 2 times I think…

Meals: We tend not to like airline food, so we plan accordingly… We are finding that a substantial meal before flights works well and allows you to only pick at the airline food if you wish. We had a nice meal at the Garden State Diner at Newark airport during our lay-over there.


We arrived in BA about 9:15 after the 9+ hour flight from Houston. In the arrivals hall we hired a car to drive us to the Plaza Hotel (Marriott), cost 144 pse (3.75 pse to the $1.).
It took about 30-45 minutes to get there, mostly on highways. Prior to leaving home the hotel had offered us an upgrade to the executive floor which we decided to accept at $40 extra per nite.
The club was a bit of a disappointment but was adequate allowing us a decent hot breakfast and the usual evening spread---but no free alcohol, which we found odd, but we did find other hotels operated in the same way, but not all of them.. There also was not internet other than wi-fi and we left the laptop at home..
Our room was very nice but not overly large---FF room. We had breakfast in the club immediately upon arrival. The hotel faces onto San Martin Park. It was built in 1907 as the first lux hotel in that part of BA. It remains very elegant today.

After unpacking a bit we headed out to explore the neighborhood. The hotel is at one end of Florida Street, the main walking street of the city, We stopped to visit Galleria Pacifica which Guenmai has raved about on Fodors. We walked about 2/3rds of Florida St. before hunger set in. Empanadas seemed to be calling to us. We found a very local place and had a nice lunch consisting of empanadas, bottled water and flan—total cost $9.

On the way back to the hotel we sat for some time in San Martin park and admired the old trees and a special traveling UN exhibit of large standing bears, each painted fantastically to represent a different country---this is a traveling show so watch for it on your travels.

Karen had her first look in H. Stern, the famous South American jeweler.

Had a nap upon our return to the hotel.

The concierge suggested a steak place about 3.5 blocks away and we went there for our first of many argentine beef meals. WHILE WE HAD READ ABOUT IT WE DID NOT HAVE ANY REALIZATION ABOUT ACTUALLY HOW HUGE THE PORTIONS ARE…. Split your meals. We had two fillets, one would have done, a salad, two boiled potatoes (which actually looked like two large blocks of ivory soap), a bottle of malbec (wine), water and dulce de leche in a crepe---221 pse…
Restaurant name: Las Nazarenas—Reconquista 1132… It is open all day from lunch onwards. Open pit fire, some by wood, some by gas….slow cook…
We would return here on our last day as well.

Fell into bed…




Thursday April 16—my sister’s 60th birthday

We booked a 3 hour city tour with signature tours, for the morning, through the concierge—110 pse each. This is going to be our new get acquainted method in the future. When the large van arrived we were the only participants for the day so it ended up as a private tour rather than sharing with up to 10 others. Our guide, Juliet, was a delightful young conservative woman who we really enjoyed. The tour took us to all the major sites and/or parts of town: independence square and casa rosada, san telmo, recoletta, la boca, each of which we got out and walked around. Independence Sauare is the site of the weekly demonstration on Thursday afternoons by the mother’s of the mostly young men who disappeared in the 1970’s at the hands of the then military dictatorship, never to be heard from again. Juliet pointed out that rather than being victims as is represented by the group today, they were in fact “terriorists” of the era.
We asked to be dropped off after the tour of the recoletta cemetery, and we walked around for a while in this charming part of the city. As it happens we ended up on Ayacucho street which is where the main shop of Arundle is located. This is one of the major leather/polo shops in BA. Tenombre had put us onto it… We had interest in items made of Carpincho, a unique skin with small dots, usually rust in color, which has amazing durability. We bought several items and I ordered two custom made belts (had to be custom for the size----no rude comments please). The animal is best described as a small pig like creature that spends most of its time in the water. They have large claws and often the suade like hides have scratch marks on them---this is normal, not shop worn by product… We are told that they are unique to Argentina.

The arundle people suggested the El Sanjuanino Restaurant at Posados 1515, directly behind the Alvear Palace Hotel, for some of the best empanadas in BA. As it was close by we headed there, but stopped off to stroll through the Alvear lobby and use the banos (toilets) on our way. Lunch was delicious and in fact we think they have the best empanadas in the city… It was here that we saw our first young woman eating a man sized steak for her lunch. This happened often during our trip. Those Argentines love their meats!!! BTW, lunch is often the largest meal of the day for locals.

After lunch we headed out to find some of the famous Argentine ice cream, and ended up at Volta one of the three main ice cream chains…. Yum, yum yum…

We taxied back to the hotel. We used taxis often during our stay as they are reasonable and an easy way to get around…..There are about 30,000 legal and 10,000 illegal taxis in BA we were told….The fare starts at 3.80 pse.($1.). Taxis have meters… There are other forms of transportation as well, like the ‘remise’, but we most often just used the regular radio taxi (yellow and black). We had no issue what so ever with using taxis from any street corner. Guidebooks warn about this but it seems to be an issue of the past.

On Thursdays at 6PM, the Plaza Hotel offers a free tour of the historic building and its surroundings. This is conducted by a rep from the historic buildings commission in conjunction with the hotel. We signed up for it the nite before and ended up being the only participants. The hotel was built in 1907 in a newly expanding area of the city by one of the local gentry. It’s an imposing classical style structure with a long history.

We had a date with Alberto (avrooster) and his wife in the Plaza bar at 8PM. He had asked me if I minded if they brought another couple along (for protection I think) as we might find them good company. Phil, an American and his Argentine wife Graciela, were already in the bar when Karen and I arrived. Alberto and Teresa arrived shortly thereafter…. We had a lovely time in this beautiful bar and then walked across San Martin Park to the Ligure Restaurant, Juncal 855. Alberto and Phil had picked this restaurant as it represents an older style of Argentine restaurant and was also quite close to the Plaza. We had a lovely evening with these other two couples. Alberto claims Phil is ‘THE’ Argentine expert on TA. The dinner was delicious and the restaurant was attractive with excellent service. We did not get back to the hotel until 12:30AM. A fantastic evening with yet another Fodorite.




Friday

We had breakfast in the club lounge and headed out for a day of shopping and enjoying the city. Returned to Florida street, where we found the shopping ok, but not fantastic…Santa Fe is a better place for quality we felt. Did some internet at a spot on Florida street—very cheap. Took a taxi to the famous Gran Café Tortoni on Avenue de Mayo. It was here that we encountered our first public demonstration. A group of native looking people, mostly women and children, were sitting in the middle of this very busy street disrupting traffic. Police were there as were many onlookers and other participants. All was very orderly and non-violent. We were to learn later in the trip that this type of demonstration is a way of live in Argentina today and seems to be very disruptive. The lunch was delicious, if expensive, but the visit was worthwhile as the restaurant is attractive in an old-world sort of way..

Karen made a number of purchases this day, including shoes, purses and small leather items, some made of carpincho.

Back to the hotel via taxi and a welcome drink in the club.



During the planning part of the trip, I had been shocked at the price of inter-SA air tickets. For this reason, I had decided that perhaps we would try one of the lux long distance buses within Argentina. I made contact with the Mawa Travel Agency in BA. The man I dealt with is Matias Perez ([email protected]). They also have an 800 number through Miami, but I have lost that. So, for about 1/3 the cost of airfare (over $500 each) we booked the 12+ hour overnite lux bus ride to Mendoza. The tickets were to be delivered to the Plaza, but had not yet arrived, so the concierge arranged for them to be delivered that nite. They arrived by messenger.


This nite we wanted a change in menu so asked for an Italian suggestion. The concierge reserved a table for us at 7:45 at the Piegari Restaurant next to the Four Seasons Hotel.
The setting was lovely and the food way too plentiful but delicious, but the price was over $100, which seemed a bit excessive with no wine ordered. We had beer, and each had a chicken dish, plus water and we split a dessert.
The other customers in the place often knew each other and were of a certain age and very well dressed and loved their champagne---everyone seemed to be drinking it but us. It had a bit of an exclusive club feeling.


Saturday


Breakfast in the club lounge followed by some more local shopping and a look-see at the church in back of the hotel. It was during this walk about that I became a victim of the oft talked about personal assault in BA. After taking pics of the outside of the church we continued to walk along an almost deserted street directly behind the famous Cavanaugh building. Karen got a bit ahead of me. All of a sudden I felt something wet on the back of my neck—I did not think much about it as many a/c units drip on you from above in BA. But then I heard someone speak in Spanish in back of me, and I felt more wetness. A Spanish couple approached me from behind extending their hands with Kleenex in them. I KNEW INSTANTLY WHAT WAS HAPPENING. I held out my hands to fend them off, held my camera tightly in my left hand and put my right hand over my wallet in my rear pocket. They ran off… They were close enough that I could have pushed them or hit them, but I did not think that fast. Where is the Panda when you need him? I had on a yellow shirt and chinos and they now had huge black oil stains on them. The pants came clean, but the shirt is ruined.

We proceeded to the leather shop around the corner. More on this shop later. The clerks could see instantly that I had become the latest victim. They offered assistance but the hotel was right next door and we would return there after Karen had a look at their merchandise, which is very nice. One of the clerks looked down the road after her last customers, and sure enough this German couple had become the next victims. They lost their wallets. I must say that this soured me a bit on BA, and from then on I was never really comfortable or relaxed walking around. During the rest of the trip we were to hear over and over again about security issues in Argentina. I MUST ADD THAT I WOULD NOT ALLOW THESE ISSUES TO PREVENT ME FROM VISITING THERE. There are ways to deal with it----preparation is the key amongst them.

We returned to the hotel, I cleaned up and a car came for us at noon. I booked this car based on the recommendation of Guenmai who had used them last August. This transportation group is 10 men who have banded together to offer personalized taxi service with a capital S in BA... The contact I have is Pablo Montoya, cell: 15-6178-1690. His English is excellent, just talk slowly to him. The hotel ordered taxi to the airport was 250 pse, he charged us 105 first and later 120 from another hotel. I can’t say enough about his flexibility and desire to please his customers… we also later used one of the other guys in this group…. USE THEM FOR ALL YOUR TRANSPORT NEEDS IN BA … also: Nextel: 54*624*5001 or [email protected]

He took us to the airport for our afternoon flight to Asuncion, Paraguay on Brazilian GOL Airlines which I had booked on line. Check in was swift and easy and we paid the $18 per person exit tax (cash or credit card).

The flight to Asuncion, Paraguay was about 1.5 hours and cost about $500 for the two of us roundtrip. Customs and Immigration was easy and swift and after a 54 year absence Karen finally got to return to Paraguay. I had selected the Crowne Plaza Hotel ($85) for our stay. I requested them to send a car for us at the airport ($20), as I was unsure what the taxi situation would be, and after arrival I was glad that I had as I did not see one single taxi at the Asuncion airport. The driver was there and waiting for us and we moved swifty into the city arriving in the late afternoon. We asked the front desk for a dinner suggestion and they suggested the Bar San Roque a few blocks away. We walked there and had the most pleasant dinner…. This German family has owned this restaurant for over 60 and prepares fantastic food, both local and international. Karen notes in her diary that this was the best meal we had had thus far on the trip and only cost about $30 including some very cold beers.



Sunday

Breakfast buffet at the hotel. Jose Vega, an architect I met on the internet (TA I think), who lives outside Asuncion, offered to be our driver for part of our visit. He is a young married guy with a one year old son who speaks excellent English…. We had many emails back and forth about a number of items prior to the trip. He arrived at the hotel about 9AM for our first part day of touring….
As much of the city is closed down on Sundays, he had suggested some time outside the city visiting several smaller cities. We agreed.
We liked him immediately….He is a bit reserved and very polite as well as well educated. His wife works part time in her father’s travel agency, and each afternoon works as a dentist (craig—note this as a possibility for jeane).

HE IS INTERESTED IN IMPROVING HIS ENGLISH AND ALSO IN DOING MORE GUIDING AND DRIVING AROUND ASUNCION….

His contact info is: [email protected] from his business card

I use the following contact address: [email protected]

He charged us $80 a day for normal touring, more for longer trips. He had two vehicles---we used a 1995 benz sedan which was very comfortable….

Our time with him was simply fabulous…. We got to meet his wife and son one day and he made our Paraguay stay memorable….

So back to our first day of touring….

We started off by drive-bys of some of the city areas—its quite small actually—as we leave for the courtryside. We visited a couple of towns and our first major stop was in Itaugua, where the famous Nanduti lace is hand made by locals…..Karen bought several things including two cotton blouses…. The older woman who helped us in this home shop was the maker of several things we purchased… From there we moved on to the town of Caacupe where one of the most important churches in Paraguay is located… We had a nice walk around the church… From there we moved on to Atyra which is well known for its leather production and wood carving---more purchases…

It was nearing lunch time and jose had selected a remote restaurant located high on a hill..---Delmonte, Atyra, Paraguay. This hotel/restaurant/zoo offered a traditional BBQ meal under an open air pavilion—fixed prix and cheap. We enjoyed the meal and a walk around looking at some of the animals and birds on display… It was a nice break….An older man entertained us during lunch playing a Paraguayan harp…Remember this restaurant later on when we are in Mendoza, Argentina….


Next we moved on to a huge lake area. Lake Ypacarai. Karen remembers this as an escape from hot Asuncion when she was a kid---no a/c in the 1950’s remember…

Now we headed back to Asuncion….Along the way we stopped for a drink at one of jose’s favorite roadside restaurants…..It seems this place is famous, as is the town by the lake, for a donut filled with rich cream or jelly or dulce de leche. WOW!!! They were terrific…. Jose bought several to take home to the family.

We had a drink in the bar at the hotel followed by a disappointing dinner in the hotel dining room.
rhkkmk is offline  
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May 8th, 2009, 08:58 PM
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Very interesting report, rhkkmk. My friend and I just missed you at the Marriott, I think. I didn't visit Paraguay on my recent trip, and slightly regret it. It sounds so weird in the travelogue I have read about it by Pico Iyer, and the fictional travelogue by Graham Greene in "Travels With My Aunt". Some huge percentage of the GNP comes from smuggling.
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May 8th, 2009, 10:38 PM
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Great start Bob! Am I the only one up this late??

Making me want to head south of the border...south of many borders!
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May 9th, 2009, 02:01 AM
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Bob - as alaways a great report! Looking forward to hearing more.

PS glad to hear from your other posts that you and the rooster got on so well!
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May 9th, 2009, 03:53 AM
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rhkkmk; It is a good beginning for exploring Argentina, but I feel you still have a lot to see in the NW of Argentina.
This area is almost unknown, but once you come and see it will become a fan as crellston. Or are you waiting for crellstone to have his own place to come??
Flintstones
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May 9th, 2009, 04:45 AM
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Enjoying your report! As always, the details, menu descriptions, etc are much appreciated.

How does Karen travel with carry-on only and do all that shopping? Did you ship stuff home?
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May 9th, 2009, 05:25 AM
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we did not shop stuff, we just find a way to do it....she has the carry-on plus the 22" which is a full suitcase....she is very careful what she brings---mix and match so to speak....

her major purchases are always jewelry, but this time she yielded to shoes and leather too....
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May 9th, 2009, 06:24 AM
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Interesting to read, thanks for posting.
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May 9th, 2009, 06:35 AM
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Enjoying your report rhkkmk. Planning a trip in December so
I have been waiting for you to return and post.
Thanks also for the help you provided on New England for
our trip this summer.
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May 9th, 2009, 12:37 PM
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Hi Bob-- Enjoying your report! I, too, was wondering how in the world you guys can fit so many souvenirs into your small suitcases! Interesting about the problem in BA. A similar thing happened to us once in Ecuador (I think it was in that country)but we didn't lose anything, either. Why are you, an experienced traveler, carrying your wallet in your back pocket? Congratulations on your quick thinking! Otherwise, the trip sounds fabulous so far.
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May 9th, 2009, 06:30 PM
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It doesnt matter that Bob is 65, he is one of the last people I would want to try to rob!

great as always Bob! Say hi to K for us. You and K should of got matching tattoos while you were in Paraguay!
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May 10th, 2009, 10:29 AM
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My Gosh, what an adventure! Very glad nothing serious happened. Sounds like a very interesting trip. Please say hi to Karen!
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May 10th, 2009, 12:17 PM
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When I read about San Martin Park, I thought for sure you were about to tell us that one of the bears was a panda! I am sorry to hear about your ruined shirt, but was happy to read about your trip and Karen's long-awaited return to Paraguay. Sounds like you wisely located many reliable resources prior to your trip. Bravo!

BC
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May 11th, 2009, 07:16 AM
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Great report, we also had our very first dinner in BA at Las Nazarenas many years ago and ordered way too much food, the steaks were huge and so were all the side dishes.

Sorry about the "spray" incident, in our three visits to BA we've not had a bad experience. Hope it didn't spoil your views of BA.

Our next trip, we'll have to meet up with the famous avrooster, we just never spend that much time in BA as we love the beauty of the rest of the country.

Looking forward to the rest!
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May 11th, 2009, 07:50 AM
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small correction: the great leather store is: ARANDU not the misspelling i previously reported

more to come later today
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May 11th, 2009, 10:46 AM
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I GUESS MY REPORT HAS BEEN MOVED HERE FROM THE ASIA BOARD...
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May 11th, 2009, 11:19 AM
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Monday 20th


Had breakfast in the hotel dining room and then Jose picked us up… We went in search of a laundry as we needed some wash done…..Finally found one in downtown and the items would be completed by 6PM, but we told them the following morning would be fine….very reasonable—a huge pile for $6 and some of it was ironed.

Then we proceeded to search out the two houses and school that Karen had lived in and attended in the 1950’s. We found the first house quite quickly…It looked the same except now it has a huge steel security fence covering the whole front of the property. It’s a small brick house which had changed little in 54 years.

Just around the corner was the private school that she attended. Her parents felt strongly that the girls should learn to speak Spanish well during their stay so instead of the American school they were enrolled in an all Spanish speaking school, even though they spoke no Spanish… Needless to say they learned fast. The school is the Collegio International. The buildings are old but the spirit seems strong and the grounds and buildings are very well kept…..We spent about an hour or so there. One of the administrators took us around. Karen only partially remembered it until we got to the auditorium, when it all clicked for her… She bought herseld a white and red school T-shirt with the school logo.

From there we headed slightly further out of town to the next house, the house where they lived the longest. It looked exactly the same, except that it now had buildings and houses all around it which it did not in the 1950’s. Karen was quite pleased with the morning’s activities, and I was glad to be able to put more perspective on what I had been hearing about for 60 years….

Following these visits, we took a quick drive-by some of the very limited sites in Asuncion. We stopped near the Paraguayan “White House” walked around it—unlike Washington there are no barricades, only a few guards. There was currently a small scandal as it was just revealed that the current president, a former bishop of the RC church fathered at least one, and now more, children while he was a bishop. We visited a small museum, which consists of 7 old houses brought together to form a downtown museum of early life in this city. We rode by the national parliament buildings, old and new and the national cathedral building and pantheon of heroes.

It was time for some lunch so Jose took us to see their new mall, where we could have a quick lunch of empanadas, at a fast food empanadas place (Von Vito).. They were quite good actually.
The mall was medium sized and has some nice shops. More like a 1960’s USA mall.

In retrospect Karen felt that much of the downtown was similar to when she was living there, except now all the roads are paved, there were no donkeys carrying women around town and no more horse carts. The city was of course much more expanded and much more modern. Even most of the 1940’s and 1950’s cars were gone—they had been there not that long ago. It is very evident that the country suffered in the long run from the over 30 year dictatorship of Stroesner, the former leader. They are slowly climbing out of that, but remain a poor nation. Their largest national treasure is their water, clean and plentiful.

From the mall we headed out to a town that specializes in the manufacturer of silver items. Luque is a lovely little town with a town square with several silver shops around it. Jose took us to his favorite and we settled in for a buying spree. While Karen prefers gold, she has decided that silver offers some fashion alternatives for her…. She purchased a puzzle ring or two---many silver intertwined bands that form a sort of a puzzle when they are opened up. She bought a couple of necklaces and pendants as well. Prices were very reasonable.

After this stop we headed back to Asuncion. We had a drink in the bar, did our emails on the free internet machines which crowne plaza offered and got ready for dinner.

One of the two men I had met on the internet while researching Paraguay was another Jose. We had made a date to meet he and his wife at the hotel bar for a drink and dinner. He is in his early 30’s, is an accountant by training, and had lived in England for 3 years while both he and his wife furthered their educations and English language skills. His wife is a psychologist. He and his father and brother have investments in ranching and cattle, so it was interesting to learn more about this business.

They invited us to a private club, which his family belongs to, for a leisurely dinner. The Centenario Club is on the outskirts of Asuncion and offers wonderful dining facilities and many sports activities. BBQ was the menu for the evening, in the lovely large dining room.. We enjoyed a wonderful evening with this young couple and some very good food. We brought him some copies of old pictures of Asuncion, as this is one of his interests.


Tuesday


Up a bit early and downstairs for a quick breakfast as Jose was coming for us at 8:45 for our transit back to Argentina to Iguazu Falls, on the Argentine side.

Some quick background. The normal way to get from Paraguay to Iguazu is to go through Brazil for about 10 miles. We knew that we wanted to visit the falls mostly from the Argentine side and to stay in the National Park in its only hotel, the Sheraton.
BUT, Brazil charges about $150 each for a visa. So a good deal of my research was how we could avoid this payment… Some said don’t worry about it because at the bridge where you cross the river from one country to the other you do not need to stop at immigration….even the bus only stops if requested to do so. This seemed way toooo dangerous for us. So finally someone on line told me about another way. Get yourselves to Ciudad, Paraguay—one of the largest smuggling and illicit trade towns in the world. Take a taxi about 8 km south to a boat landing. Take the boat across to the Argentine side and take a taxi to the Sheraton. This seemed reasonable and legal. BUT…
So I settled on this plan. We stopped in NYC in Janurary to get our visas for Paraguay. At their small office I was the only person there for a visa that morning. And the woman was able to whip it off for me quickly---IT ONLY TOOK FOUR (YES 4) DAMN HOURS. On my way down in the elevator I noticed that she had made a mistake and given us only one entry into Paraguay and we needed two, and I had requested two… I was mad but decided we could deal with it from home. I called this speedy lady a couple of days later and she told me no problem, they will just charge you a small fee and correct it on the spot. Remember this.
During the winter, I had decided to ask Jose if he would consider driving us to Ciudad. He said he had never done it but would research it. Later, after he had a plan I asked if perhaps he could also drive us all the way to the hotel and he said yes. Price $80 for the day and an additional $60 for gas, tolls, etc. Great, as the flight to ciudad alone was almost this much each and we would have comfort in the benz and go at our own speed and with no hastle.

So Jose picked us up, and we got the laundry and headed out of town. The drive time to Ciudad was about 4-5 hours. We passed the time pleasantly observing the countryside and enjoying our ongoing conversations with Jose. We discussed how to handle the immigration/visa issue and decided to face it head-on. We arrived at the city, he asked for further directions and we drove about 10 miles south to a dead-end street at a makeshift ferry landing with an immigration office. We never could have done this on our own. Jose and I went to the window and we were directed to speak with the “boss” who was sitting under a tree outside. He came to his modest office and Jose spoke to him in Spanish and they came to an arrangement. We were allowed to pass.

The ferry was a barge, pushed along by a small tug boat secured to it by a large rope. The ferry held about a dozen cars and small trucks. Cost: car $4 US and $1 per person. This was included in what Jose was charging us. This section of the river is where 3 big rivers meet forming the junction of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. There was no docking station or concrete platform that the barge butted up against, but rather it was just rammed into the dirt at rivers edge and you drove off from there.

One thing I have not mentioned and you parents and grandparents may know what I am talking about. We took along with us “Flat Stanley” from our eldest grandson’s 3rd grade class. FS is a cut out of a small boy/man colored by my grandson and put into a plastic covering. HIS whole purpose is to help the kids with the understanding of some geography. So whenever someone goes some place you take along FS and take a picture of him in front of some famous place. So we took him to SA with us. We took his picture on this barge with the 3 countries and in many other places on this trip.

At the other side we went to the shack that serves as Argentine immigration and presented our papers and drove off. Not so for some of the others who were on the barge. They were detained. Seems this is a place where workers are smuggled from one country to another. One group’s van was being searched and its occupants were detained. Jose felt they would be sent back based on a conversation he had overheard.

We drove another 10-15 miles, entered the national park, paid a fee (60 psc. each) and arrived shortly after that a the Sheraton. The building is basically unattractive from the outside, but inside was quite decent and fairly well kept. From the reception desk you can look directly out the large windows to one section of the falls in the distance. Really nice.
Rooms either face the falls, or face the jungle, as they call it. As we were there on points and cash our room faced the jungle, but we did not really care. I think it was SPG 2800 pts and $45 per nite. CHEAP!!! Regular price seems to hover around $250. You are really a captive here of the hotel. You can go into the town and to do so you hire a taxi for about $50 for 4 hours, but honestly we did not see anything in the town worth visiting, but we were told that there are a couple of decent restaurants. We were in a starwoods room, #349. Hotel could be anyplace as Karen pointed out. Basic Sheraton lower end. One long corridor.

For dinner I had the chef’s tasting meal (5 or 6 courses-pork was the main) and Karen had fish. Both were decent and the cost was about 240 psc. As there is nothing to do here at nite, we went to our room and watched some tv and went to
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May 11th, 2009, 12:46 PM
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Wednesday


The only bad day of the entire trip, weatherwise… We woke up to a bit of fog and rain. We were sort of prepared as it is very damp around the falls anyways. My back was very stiff but some Advil and forcing myself to walk along soon caused it to release itself. We started out with only T-shorts and shorts on as it was pouring. Soon it did not matter as we were soaked to the core. It’s a very short walk from the hotel into the park—maybe 500 feet. We decided that we would take the short narrow gauge train ride which takes you out to the tip above the falls. The train was fun and takes maybe 10 minutes--free. It takes you along the edge of the river and next to the rain forest, which today was truly a rain forest… At the end of the train tracks you walk on elevated steel walkways above the swamps and parts of the river out to very close---like 50 feet—from the edge of some of the falls. The walk along these walkways take perhaps 15-20 minutes to the end. I should explain that Iguazu Falls is a series of falls over a very large area. This walkway takes you out to the so-called devil’s throat area---the largest and most lively of the falls areas. It was very hard to get good pictures from here as the wind was blowing and the mist was rising and the rain was swirling all around you… I took a water proof case to hold my camera but I needed to take the camera out to take pics and the lense just got drops all over it. Don’t expect much from these pictures. We were glad to leave this area and to finally get back to the hotel and get warm and dry… When we got back to the room there was a mechanic there.. It seems that the a/c hose in the wall had burst in our room and made a mess. It did not affect any of our belongings luckily. This workman took a picture of us in our wet state.

Karen’s memory of her first visit here was that of arriving by sea plane and having to walk out on planks to see the falls from very rustic accommodations.

We had a nice lunch in the hotel’s café after warm showers. We had sandwiches and split a flan…

For those of you who do not know, flan is a baked custard with a burnt sugar liquid sauce. It often is accompanied with a very thick and rich whipped cream. It is Karen’s favorite international dessert, the only thing she remembers that their cook made that she liked. Flan was our major dessert each day while on this trip.

Relaxed for the rest of the day and did some e-mails on the provided machines and had a nice leisurely dinner in the dining room. No record of the menu so it must not have been anything special. The menu never changed our whole time there. We invited a couple to join us whom we had met the nite before.







Thursday


The sun was back. I hung around the hotel and Karen walked out to try the upper loop of the trails around the park and falls. I was not sure it was for me… When she returned she convinced me that we should do it together so we did and I loved the simple way she had found. So we took FS and the camera and hiked out… On the way down we had met up with a golf cart which the national park has for elderly and infirmed guests. Ha ha that is for me on the return. We walked quite a ways and took our pics and those with Stanley. We engaged the free cart on the way back and they took us to the edge of the hotel property.

We were back to the hotel by 2 and had some lunch and a walk on the roof from where there is a fantastic view of the falls area. You get a special pass from the front desk to go up there---room card. We went out to the lovely pool for a swim and met a doctor and his nurse wife from CA whom we enjoyed talking with. We had met another doctor and his wife the nite before in the dining room and they too were from CA. In fact almost everyone we met on this trip was from CA.

That nite we had dinner in the dining room with doctor #1. It was a very enjoyable meal. They love malbec so Karen had someone to drink wine with.


Friday


Up late this day. We ate a big breakfast as we were not sure what the day’s schedule would bring with our return by car to Asuncion.

Again we did e-mails and we had arranged with Jose to come for us about 11. We forgot however that there was a one hour time change---duh.

Jose had left the car in ciudad at his cousin’s house and taken the bus back to Asuncion and did the reverse this day, leaving Asuncion at 2AM, so as to allow himself some time to shop in ciudad.

We did some shopping at the shops at the hotel. Karen bought herself two unset stones to have set in Bangkok next year. The stone is a rose colored stone which is sort of the national stone of Argentina—Rhodochrosite.

Jose came about 12:30 and we started off. No problem leaving Argentina again and another nice barge ride. I was a bit apprehensive about our interface with immigration in Paraguay however. Jose explained that he had spoken with the same man again and that here is what you do. In each passport put 100,000 guaranes ($20) and present the passport to him and he will take care of the rest…..Yea, call the paddy wagon and take me away. But he opened the passport in his office, put the cash in his drawer quickly and handed back my passports, smiled and said goodbye. That was that. He had also told Jose who to see at the airport when we were leaving for good.

There was very heavy traffic on the way back to Asuncion because there were so many trucks on the road and it is not easy to pass safely. They never move over or make it easy for cars either. We were glad we had stopped at McDonalds quickly in ciudad.

We arrived back to Asuncion to the Gran Hotel de Paraguay later than expected. This hotel was where Karen and her family had stayed for a month or two when they first arrived in Paraguay and were waiting for their house. Let’s call it a bit of faded elegance. The dining rooms are still glamorous with their painted walls and ceilings but the rooms are rather basic…. We had booked a suite for $122. Upon arrival they claimed to have given our room away as we were to have arrived the day before. Not to worry, they had another for us. I later showed them their e mail confirming the dates and they were wrong.

The safe in the room had no lock. It seems that here you have to get a key lock from registration and it cost $6 for your stay. It fits into the lock are and a twist and your things are secure?? This we did. Odd.

There was a very lavish wedding that nite at the hotel so we went out for dinner. The La Pergola Restaurant was just about 4 blocks away. We ate in their café, rather than the main dining room as we did not see the more fancy room until about ½ way through our meal. We had a delicious pork dinner with veggies, cold beers and desserts for $34.

Back to our basic suite—a la YMCA. Bed was comfortable however.


Saturday


Downstairs for a basic breakfast, but adequate. We took a taxi into the center of town to an old market area where they sell crafts. Karen remembers shopping here. She bought herself a small red leather handbag and after that we walked around the area briefly.

We then took another taxi to the Lido Bar whose name I had gotten off of TA or Fodors. We ate outside as the place is very crowded and busy. We then visited the Heroes monument which is directly across the street and strolled through a street market in the park. I bought a Paraguayan flag to add to my collection which I fly over my garages.

Taxi back to the hotel and I took a bunch of pics around the courtyards of the hotel… K tried to swim but the water was way too cold.

That nite we returned back to the Bar San Roque for another delicious dinner.. The waiter remembered us and gave us superb service again.

After our return to the hotel we sat in the lobby and watched the guests arriving for a very formal wedding that nite. Early to bed.
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May 11th, 2009, 01:08 PM
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Bob, excellent report so far. Please keep us posted over on the Asia board each time you post more. I think there is a thread that Andy started that you might use for this purpose, providing the management doesn't object.

I am still trying to picture you bribing a public official...
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May 11th, 2009, 01:21 PM
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Great reporting, rhkkmk!

I see your report was "deported" from the Asia board. Someone had led me to believe that you carried some weight on that board, but I guess I probably misunderstood. LOL!!!

About your "I was glad to be able to put more perspective on what I had been hearing about for 60 years….", I didn´t know you had met Karen when she was five! LMAO!

Just kidding. If you post here about Asia, we most certainly won't call security. LOL!!!
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